La Vita Sexy Read online

Page 4

  I was saved from further awkwardness by Luca's mother announcing it was time to eat. Dinner was chaotic, loud, fun, filling, and delicious. Everyone passed the dishes around in an endless circle, everyone talked all at the same time, children shouting to each other from across the table, adults doing the same, everyone laughing, wine flowing like water, even the little children sneaking sips under their parents' watchful gazes. I could only eat quietly, take in the insanity, and try to imagine growing up in such huge, close-knit family. When I was growing up, dinner was a largely silent affair. Mother portioned food out for us before we sat down, we drank water or milk, and we didn't talk during dinner unless directly addressed.

  This...this was total lunacy. Food was shoveled in as fast as you could eat it, seconds and thirds were taken without asking, dishes passed and set down and passed and refilled, forks and knives clattering in a constant undercurrent beneath the incessant chatter of conversations, all in rapid-fire Italian.

  Even Luca seemed to forget my presence for the most part, holding a nearly shouted conversation with a middle-aged man across the table, one of his brothers or brothers-in-law, I assumed. Domenica was at one end of the table, and her husband was at the other, a dignified older man with thick, mostly gray hair, wrinkled, leathery skin and kind, deep-set gray eyes.

  Questions were tossed at me every now and then. How did I like Italy, what did I think of Rome, did I see the Colesseum, and isn't Firenze the most beautiful city I'd ever seen, and how long was I here, and what did I do when I wasn't on holiday? I tried to answer them, smiled, and kept eating. The meal lasted for over an hour, people eating, eating, eating, taking a break to swill wine and let the food settle and talk, talk, talk, and then eating more, until all the food, which I'd thought could feed an army, was gone.

  There wasn't any one moment or signal, but everyone stood up and worked together to clear their plates and glasses and the dishes. I found myself at the sink with Marta, a sister-in-law, washing plates while she rinsed, and the other sisters dried and put them away. They spoke English to me, wondering how I'd met Luca. I tried to avoid the questions, but they were insistent, so I told them about my bag being stolen and Luca getting it back. They seemed to find this funny and cute and romantic and totally in character for Luca.

  "He must really like you," Elisabetta said.

  Elisabetta was younger than me by maybe three years, with black hair braided over her shoulder to hang between her ample breasts. She was built like me, with wide hips, large breasts, a little taller than average, a little heavy, but she wore her curves with a delicate grace and elegance that I envied.

  "Why do you say that?" I asked.

  She grinned at me. "Well, you are here, are you not? Luca does not often bring people to Sunday dinner. I don't know if he ever has."

  I frowned. "He said you guys brought people over all the time."

  Elisabetta and Lucia exchanged a look I couldn't quite decipher.

  "No, that is not quite true," Lucia said. "I am not so sure why he would say that. Perhaps you heard him wrong? When we were younger and not married, perhaps it was true, when we had a boyfriend to introduce to the family. If he couldn't find a comfortable place with Elisabetta and the boys, then he wouldn't get another date with us. Family is the best test of finding a fitting mate."

  Lucia was taller than the rest of us, thin and willowy, her hair a little thinner and finer, her fingers long and restless, much like Luca's.

  Elisabetta nodded, and so did Marta.

  "I did the same with Lorenzo," Marta said. "If he couldn't be friends with my brothers, I knew he couldn't be my husband." Marta's English was the most fluent, accented with a hint of British pronunciation, as if she'd spent time in England.

  I was silent through these exchanges, the women trading stories of their husbands learning to get along with their families. My heart was thudding.

  "So you think he's testing me?" I asked.

  Elisabetta laughed. "I think he likes you. That is what I think. Testing? I do not know if this is true. But you are here, and you are a sweet girl whom I like. So you should not worry about it, hmm?"

  Lucia seemed to sense my worry. "Don't think of it. If you have worries, tell Luca. He will tell you the truth." She smiled at me as she wiped her hands dry on a rag.

  When the clean-up was done, we found the men and the children all gathered in the courtyard. The children were kicking a soccer ball around, and the men, glasses of wine and liquor in their hands, would occasionally deflect a rogue kick. Luca was the most active, darting between children to steal the ball, passing it, laughing and playing as if he was a child himself. I stood near the entryway of the courtyard, watching him play with the kids.

  He will make a good father. The thought passed through my head like a bolt of lightning. It was true, and obvious. He was clearly comfortable with the kids, as easy with the teenagers as the youngest toddlers. Even as I thought this, he scooped up a little girl, not even two, probably, toddling around and shrieking, trying to keep up with the big kids and getting frustrated when her little legs would trip her up. Luca lodged the girl on his shoulders and leaped around the courtyard, kicking the ball, laughing when the girl tugged on his hair to get him to go a different direction.

  He really would make a good father. The thought in itself was simple and innocuous enough. The part that troubled me was that the thought also came with a vision of him romping around a similar courtyard with a little girl that happened to have vivid cerulean eyes like mine, above an aquiline nose and straight, jet-black hair. That bothered me. Why did I see that? I didn't want kids. I saw what Leah went through with Lucy and Raymond, the hellish experience of birth, all the blood and screaming...I mean, yeah, Leah says it was worth it and you sort of forget it all once you hold the baby in your arms, but I'm not sure I believe her. The way she was screaming when Ray came out, that's not something you forget, no matter how cute the kid is. And I also remember how haggard Leah looked for months after the birth, the dark circles under her eyes, the way she moved as if she'd gone beyond exhaustion into something else.

  So...why am I thinking of kids? With a man I just met? It's complete lunacy. Idiocy. Madness. I've gone crazy.

  I looked up at that moment to see Luca's piercing brown eyes locked on mine, his little niece in his arms, giggling wildly as he tickled her, blew raspberries into her belly.

  "He is so good with the children, no?" Lucia said, appearing next to me. She handed me a little glass of something clear and potent, like vodka. "It is grappa, from the vineyard for whom Luca is employed."

  "He is good with the kids, yes."

  "He has had plenty of practice. There are eleven of them, the nieces and nephews for him. He is the only one not married yet. Mama wants him to give her the next grandchild, but he says he is not ready." She took a swallow of grappa, wincing at the bite. "He might have been, if Lia had not hurt him so badly."

  "He mentioned her, but we didn't really talk about it," I said. I wasn't sure I wanted to have this conversation with Lucia. Such discussions usually result in things being said that someone doesn't want aired.

  "Well, there is not much to tell," Lucia said. "He was so young when they married, only twenty-two, I think. She was older than he, by a matter of some five years. She was very sweet, very kind, or so it seemed. Everyone liked her, except me. I was not so sure why not, but something about her made me...not so trusting."

  I choked on my grappa. "They were married?" I tried not sound as peeved as I was.

  "Oh, yes, for a few years, too. Happy, they seemed. Then, she left. No reason given to him, no letter or note or a phone call or nothing. Only an empty apartment." Lucia watched her brother, the memory of his pain and her love for him communicated in the glint of her eyes. "He was broken in his heart. He loved her very much, you see, and when Lia left, of course she took Luisa with her."

  A stone of dread hit my stomach. "Luisa?"

  "Such a delightful child, Luisa was. Hair